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Civil Infrastructures Connected Internet of

Article December 2013



3 authors:
Youyuan Lu

Hongyan Ma

The Hong Kong University of Science and T

Missouri University of Science and Technol





Zongjin Li
The Hong Kong University of Science and T

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Available from: Youyuan Lu

Retrieved on: 27 May 2016

Current Advances in Civil Engineering (CACE)

Civil Infrastructures Connected Internet of Things

Youyuan Lu1, Hongyan Ma*2, Zongjin Li3
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology,
Hong Kong, China
Abstract- Internet has deeply impacted the economic mode and
social behaviour of humans. Recently, internet of things (IoT)
inaugurates a brand-new communication pattern that all the
objects in our life and work could be possibly communicated in
a sensory and intelligent manner. Today, the technology of IoT
has spread into civil infrastructures. It is considered that the
emergence of smart civil infrastructures on the network of IoT
would revolutionize the life style of humans. The civil
infrastructures connected IoT is introduced in this paper, and
an example of using cement-based piezoelectric composite
sensors to construct the civil infrastructures connected IoT is
Keywords- Internet of Things; Civil Infrastructure; CementBased Piezoelectric Composite Sensor

Over decades, internet has been firmly monopolized by
computers and mobile devices. People daily use internetbased communication technologies to exchange information
and remotely control devices. It is widely recognized that
internet produced a deep impact on the economic mode and
social behaviour of humans. Recently, internet of things
(IoT) inaugurates a brand-new communication pattern that
all the objects in our life and work could be possibly
communicated in both a sensory and an intelligent manner.
Two typical information exchange modes, i.e. human to
thing (H2T) talk and thing to thing (T2T) talk, are thereby
available anytime at anywhere to facilitate dissemination of
information in a smart way. An embryonic form of the IoT
is the real-time commodity identification that is tracked by
RFID (Radio Frequency Identification). The embedded
intelligent tags advantage large retailers to manage their
production lines and follow supply chains more efficiently.
Later, RFID was applied on tracking of shipping containers
and others automatically. Today, the technology of IoT has
spread into a wider range of objects [1], for instance,
household appliances, automobiles, and even buildings. The
emergence of smart appliances and smart vehicles on the
network of IoT would be expected to revolutionize the life
style we used to. Along with the expansion of IoT
networking and sphere of influence, accustomed humandriven mode of event operation is likely to be transformed
to object-driven mode since objects are able to use a
worldwide communication network for any purpose directly
as we use the internet.
Apart from facilities like television, cell phone, car and
airplane, what human beings encounter most are civil
infrastructures that daily serve peoples life and social

economy, including bridges, buildings, roads, pipelines, etc.

They carry significant amount of valuable data on dynamic
running state of human activities. Data can be extensively
collected for the purpose of research and analysis on social
economy and relationship. It was reported that social
scientist in Hong Kong took advantages of the statistical
records on traffic flow from several downtown cable-stayed
bridge to study the level of local economy activity. A brand
new economy index is expected to be built based on this
information which is believed to be even more objective and
comprehensive than stock index when reflecting the local
economy. Apart from the ease of information collection, the
on-line monitoring on safety, durability, serviceability and
energy efficiency of infrastructures in service have
significant impact on not only economic development but
also the quality of our life [2]. Supposing all the information
regarding the safety, durability, serviceability and energy
efficiency of infrastructures could be comprehensively and
effectively collected in a smart way, manipulated in a
uniform format and exchanged by H2T or T2T talks on IoT
in both a sensory and an intelligent manner, the participation
of infrastructures in IoT, as sketched in Fig. 1, would make
extraordinary sense for their owners and users.

Fig. 1 Sketch of the concept of civil infrastructures connected internet of


On their own sense, civil infrastructures connected in the

IoT are expected to be transformed from lifeless objects to
active advanced biological bodies which were born
complete biological nervous systems and powerful BRAINs.
The structure of sensory network in the IoT connected civil

CACE Volume 2, Issue 1 Jan. 2014 PP. 16-19 www.cace.org @ American V-King Scientific Publishing

Current Advances in Civil Engineering (CACE)

infrastructure imitates a simplified biological nervous

system of an animal consisting of neurons and network.
Meanwhile, a high performance central controller is
naturally employed to play the role of BRAIN of an
infrastructure and interface to IoT. Hence, civil
infrastructures can feel their changes due to the impact of
environment and loading by densely distributed sensory
neurons and pool all the changes into the BRAIN by sensory
network. Together with properly designed closed-loop
intelligent system, such civil infrastructures are able to
smartly react to compensate or reduce the effect of
environment and loading for their own good. Moreover, the
BRAINs interface to IoT enables it to express its feeling to
other smart on-line objects and get feedback easily by
means of H2T or T2T talks on IoT. Provided that it is a
transportation infrastructure, the smart nature of it can help
to manage heavy traffic, a headache problem faced by
modern society. With a densely distributed sensory network
in transportation system, any vehicles running on the lane
would be continuously perceived by local embedded
sensory points. Information on vehicle speed, weight-inmotion, position and traffic flow can be obtained and pooled
in real time. Through information analysis, the BRAIN can
swiftly make optimal decision to prolong or shorten the
passing time of different directions by adjusting the length
of the corresponding IoT connected traffic lights and
directing IoT connected vehicles to follow optimal routes.
The speed and position of vehicles can be tracked and
analyzed by the BRAIN to avoid accidents through a quick
and direct exchange among related smart objects (including
things and users terminals) on the IoT. It is believed that an
early activation on IoT connected objects of emergence
assistance would save more lives and keep the traffic
running smoothly. From this simple case, we could see that
the characteristic of direct communication between IoT
connected smart objects is able to provides people with a
comfortable and relaxed way of life [3].
Nowadays, durability of civil infrastructure has become
a big issue in the world as it is involved a large amount of
financial burden. In USA, the American Society of Civil
Engineers has just released this report card for 2009 which
gives America's infrastructure an overall GPA of "D" and
recommends a 5-year investment of 2.2 trillion USD to
remedy this problem [4]. This will undoubtedly aggravate
the inherently bad debt situation of the U.S. government. In
China, an estimate on the economic loss due to
reinforcement corrosion only has reached 1 trillion CNY in
2002 [5]. This is the reason why the market of nondestructive testing and evaluation is so hot. However, it is
considered that IoT connected infrastructures could
satisfactorily improve all these situations in a smarter way.
With densely embedded sensory network, the deterioration
of infrastructure in early stages due to various factors can be
timely detected by the BRAIN of the smart object. If the
BRAIN thinks the level of deterioration is terrible, an early
warning will consequently be issued on the IoT to protect
the users from disasters in a timely manner. And measures
can be taken timely by IoT connected emergency agents to
reinstall its initial properties. The infrastructures may be
even able to heal themselves from damage under the

instruction of the BRAIN. The instruction can be searched

from the database of the BRAIN, or from the result of
problems match with IoT connected experienced smart
objects. In this way, severe accident can be prevented and
service life of IoT connected civil infrastructure can be
prolonged. And the IoT connected civil infrastructures could
become much more durable and more sustainable.
The powerful talent of IoT connected infrastructure
comes from its closed-loop control-and-feedback structure.
In most cases, the closed-loop systems in civil
infrastructures composed IoT comprise three major
elements: controller, actuator and sensory network.
Compared with the great effort and achievement of
controller design, in terms of software, hardware and control
algorithms, the study and design of actuators and sensory
networks for IoT connected infrastructure lag behind. Hall
effect, piezoelectric accelerometer, LVDT (Linear Variable
Differential Transformer), fiber optical, infra-red sensor, etc.
are currently attempted to be employed in the construction
of sensory network for civil infrastructure. Whereas, the
actuators and sensory devices suitable for applications in the
field of mechanical engineering, such as space structures,
may not be applicable for civil infrastructures due to
differences in the properties of the host structures (most of
civil infrastructures are gigantic concrete structures).
Consequently, the need to develop new actuators and
sensory networks to meet the requirements of civil
engineering application arises.

In order to facilitate concrete infrastructures to be

qualified objects of IoT, researchers in the Hong Kong
University of Science and Technology are conceiving a
better solution of sensory network for infrastructures. They
studied the possibility of introducing a sensory network
using cement-based piezoelectric composite [6]. This
composite integrates the character of concrete and function
of piezoelectricity. Aggregate-size sensory points could be
embedded locally inside structure members exhibiting
optimal perception ability while having little effect upon the
appearance and function of the infrastructures. A densely
distributed sensory network is able to be arranged and
interconnected inside infrastructure, and it has been actually
verified that this sensory network owns a comparable
lifecycle to that of concrete infrastructure resembling a born
organ of an organism due to material advantages. From
bionic point of view, the sensory points resemble perception
behaviour of neurons: activated by physical stimuli
impinging, and then send signals reflecting the state of body
and the external environment. The densely distributed
sensory network inside infrastructure can be vividly
imagined as kind of neutral network in the body of
biological species. Both the material properties and structure
characteristic of this sensory network enable the
infrastructure to own certain similar behavioural ability as
an organism: that is feedback and control. By administrating
the sensory network with a BRAIN (a central controller),
the infrastructure itself has become an organism which is

CACE Volume 2, Issue 1 Jan. 2014 PP. 16-19 www.cace.org @ American V-King Scientific Publishing

Current Advances in Civil Engineering (CACE)

able to think and communicate. In this sense, infrastructure

is fully qualified to be a smart object of IoT.
A promising technology could not escape from being
challenged concerning its energy efficiency and
conservation. In a simple word, whether it is low-carbon or
not decides the infrastructure market acceptance of this
brand new IoT network. According to its physical
characteristic, no electrical energy needs to be consumed for
operating the bottom-layered sensory network based on
cement-based piezoelectric composite material. Instead, this
network generates electricity incessantly by repeated
mechanical strain [7], i.e. vehicles motions and structural
vibrations. Some of them could be collected as information,
while others may be utilized as energy supply depending on
the demand of sensory network. Up to 400 kilowatts had
been produced from a 1-kilometre stretch of a busy four
lane highway by Israel Institute of Technology using
piezoelectric material [8]. It is widely considered to be a
promising alternative energy source. Produced electrical
energy from the entire sensory network of infrastructure
could be efficiently harvested and stored with the help of
storage cell [9]. In this case, continuous availability of
energy would be feasible to support the BRAIN. Apart from
supporting the normal operation of BRAIN, excessive
energy could even be used by road lamps and traffic signals
system in Israel. Then, the amount of total energy saved
would be impressive over the infrastructure lifecycle.
Transportation systems described in this article are
merely a tip of IoT connected civil infrastructures iceberg. It
could be expected that bridges, dams, towers and pipelines
altogether connect to IoT as independent smart objects
facilitating direct H2T and T2T communications based on
the same philosophy. Recently, the global switch from
network protocol IPv4 to IPv6 would be an excellent
opportunity for IoT to accept huge number of worldwide
infrastructures possessing unique addresses [1]. For this
reason, we achieve a true sense of the transferring from
lifeless civil infrastructure into intelligent terminal which is
ready for communication and reaction with other buddies on
IoT. It is deemed especially attractive to developing
countries such as China and India who have a huge number
of civil infrastructures under construction and in service.
Moreover, they also start to care about both environment
and sustainable development [10, 11]. Through a rough
calculation, it has been widely accepted by engineers that
initial cost of construction may be inevitably increased, but
considering the economic, social and environmental benefits
brought up during operation and the total cost over lifecycle,
still it bears a big advantage.
The civil infrastructures connected internet of things is
introduced in this paper. It is concluded that smart civil
infrastructures on internet of things would revolutionize
humans life style. The utilization of newly developed
cement-based piezo-electric composite sensors can make
infrastructures smart and high-efficiency, and facilitate the
construction of civil infrastructures connected internet of


Financial supports from China Ministry of Science and

Technology under 2009CB623200 and from Hong Kong
Research Grant Council under N_HKUST637/9 are greatly

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Youyuan Lu received his PhD in Civil
Engineering from the Hong Kong
University of Science and Technology,
Hong Kong S.A.R., China, in December
2010. The study mainly focused on nondestructive evaluation on concrete materials
piezoelectric sensor.
He is now a Research Assistant in the
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the Hong
Kong University of Science and Technology. He has published
more than 10 papers, including journal articles and conference
proceedings, and his research interests include nondestructive
testing methods and IoT (internet of things) automatic system in
civil engineering.
Dr. Lu is a member of American Concrete Institute (ACI).
Hongyan Ma received his PhD in Civil
Engineering from the Hong Kong
University of Science and Technology,
Hong Kong S.A.R., China, in February
2013. The study mainly focused on multiscale modeling of the microstructure and
transport properties of contemporary

CACE Volume 2, Issue 1 Jan. 2014 PP. 16-19 www.cace.org @ American V-King Scientific Publishing

Current Advances in Civil Engineering (CACE)

He is now a Post-doctoral Fellow in the Department of Civil

and Environmental Engineering, the Hong Kong University of
Science and Technology. He has published more than 10 papers,
including journal articles and conference proceedings, and his
research interests include experimental study and numerical
simulation of hydration, microstructure, transport properties and
durability of cement-based materials; polymer modified concrete;
functional cement-based materials; and nondestructive tests.

Prof. Li is the fellow of American Concrete Institute (ACI),

and the member of the Committee for Concrete, Reinforced
Concrete, and Prestressed Concrete of International Organization
for Standardization (ISO/TC 71), the International Federation for
Structural Concrete (fib), etc.

Dr. Ma is a member of American Concrete Institute (ACI) and

the International Union of Laboratories and Experts in
Construction Materials, Systems and Structures (RILEM).
Zongjin Li received his PhD in Structural
Engineering from Northwestern University,
Evanston, Illinois, USA, in 1993. The study
mainly focused on the application of
acoustic emission technique to the
measurement of concrete properties under
uniaxial tension.
He is now a Professor in the
Department of Civil and Environmental
Engineering, the Hong Kong University of Science and
Technology. He has published over 300 papers and 3 technical
books, such as Advanced Concrete Technology (Hoboken, New
Jersey, USA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2011), and Structural
Renovation in Concrete (London, UK: Spon Press, 2009). His
research interests include the durability of concrete; the
development of high-performance concrete; fiber-reinforced
concrete; fracture mechanics of concrete; nondestructive testing in
civil engineering (acoustic emission, infrared, and impact echo);
the development of advanced building materials using the
extrusion technique; and functional materials in civil engineering.

CACE Volume 2, Issue 1 Jan. 2014 PP. 16-19 www.cace.org @ American V-King Scientific Publishing